A sudden twist of Rihan’s head revealed his restive demeanor.
“Is there still no trace of the Emperor?”
“Should we have found him, Your Highness, he would be present here,” quipped Ugel’s third prince, Hanan, with an undercurrent of sarcasm.
“He’s vanished without a trace. Unless he’s mastered the art of becoming air or buried himself in the ground, there’s no logical explanation. Even after scouring the depths of his prison cell, no escape route emerged…”
“You were overseeing his confinement!”
“I only applied a bit of pressure. How he manipulated his broken arm to unlock the prison door, how he slipped from his captors with severed tendons in his ankle… well, I’m equally intrigued. Still, he reached that point, so he’s probably alive and just unable to reveal himself yet. It’ll take quite some time to recover.”
The haunting rumor of the Argan Empire’s last emperor, Andrei, succumbing to a brutal throat-slitting and a desecrated corpse was just that—a rumor. The Ugel people hadn’t orchestrated his demise. With hundreds of pieces of information that should’ve come from the emperor’s mouth, would it be wise to send him to the afterlife so easily?
Had it been an error? The emperor, shackled by a lifetime in the subterranean depths of the imperial prison, vanished as if into thin air. Despite the cruel loss of an eye and the severance of half his right arm, he had defied his frailty and slipped away.
Over decades, King Geor and his quartet of sons had conspired to ensnare the Argan Emperor. They’d interwoven Thorn Vines, renowned for quelling magic, into a cord and studded a restraint with demon-forged fangs. Bound by these, the young man had suffered relentless agony for over ten torturous days, his captors’ vigilance unwavering.
Yet, the ashen youth clung to silence, preserving the secret of his imprisonment to the bitter end.
Ugel’s grasp on dragon magic remained woefully incomplete. At best, they could access the records from the emperor’s personal study and office. Yet, the true treasure trove lay buried in the depths of the imperial palace’s sanctuary.
There, nestled within, rested volumes of magical research—an odyssey spanning from the exploits of the Great Dragon Sameshita to the tapestries of Galian mythology, and the breakthroughs etched by the dragon’s five disciples.
To fathom their squandering of a potential fortune! Yet, this was merely one facet of their predicament.
Rihan Sihat clenched his teeth. “The Emperor of Argan himself is a justification and a cause. The fact that he’s alive must not be revealed.”
Across the land, tensions were rising. Not only did the southern realms harbor unease, but even the imposing Grandel Northern Federation, nestled with Ugel, held reservations about the looming conflict. Despite the collective reluctance, a coalition of forces, led by the enigmatic Van Yela, rallied behind Ugel. The catalyst was Ugel’s rapid ascent, an ascent that cast a shadow large enough to eclipse all others.
A mere fifty years had transformed Ugel from obscurity to a juggernaut that threatened the very foundation of Van Yela’s domain. A reputation for cruelty and violence had etched its mark deep into the annals of Grandel’s history.
Should Ugel’s insatiable ambition lead to the capture of Argan and its coveted treasures of nobility and magic, the dominos would surely fall in their favor. The question hung heavy in the air like a storm-laden cloud: would the alliance, anchored by Emperor Van Yela himself, dare to oppose this newfound might? Ugel, for all its power, danced on the precipice of strategic calculation, avoiding early commitment to its audacious plans.
However, a solitary figure disrupted the delicate balance. If the Emperor of Argan yet drew breath, concealed among the southern allies, orchestrating a hidden symphony of resurgence, the dominion Ugel had so craftily built might crumble beneath the weight of revelation.
Stripped of their hastily donned mantle of supremacy, wresting control back from eager hands would prove no small feat. The destiny of Grandel trembled on a knife’s edge.
And in the North, where allegiance was a fluid notion, a turning tide awaited. Should the Federation abandon Ugel’s side, gravitating instead towards Argan, the aftermath was etched in grim certainty. Kingdoms, painstakingly forged, would dissolve like sand carried away by the wind, and the barbarians who formed the nation, uniting the desert and wastelands, would be torn into tribes once more.
There’s no need to grovel to Van Yela and the like. But it’s foolish to unnecessarily increase enemies. Rihan coldly stared at the box containing his brother’s documents.
“You acted so foolishly. You should have known when to yield in front of Rezette Kyrstan. I warned you multiple times,” he muttered under his breath.
Rihan wasn’t like his younger siblings. He had confronted that devil himself, up close and personal.
He had been the shield and blade of Emperor Van Yela. Through every bout of internal strife, each conquest of the throne, and the relentless pursuit of territorial dominion, the grand duke had stood steadfast. He had even tamed the treacherous, unknown demon-infested wilds of the northern high-risk zone.
Over a decade had elapsed since Rihan last laid eyes on that monstrosity. Memories of Grand Duke Kyrstan amidst battles against these demons resurfaced. The lad who had barely crossed into his twenties during those times appeared frail in recollection, yet the being he confronted was hardly human to begin with.